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Flaws in countywide smoking ban

Monday, April 03, 2006
Daily Herald

Remember when you could have a smoke at your desk at work or in any restaurant? Indeed, you could light up in just about every public place, except maybe elevators.
Smokers might yearn for the days before tobacco use bans banished them to the outdoors to puff away. But non-smokers donít miss being exposed to the nasty habit, and we donít blame them. Not only is sitting next to a smoker annoying, but the secondhand smoke poses a threat to your health.
The state has taken another step toward keeping smoke out of lungs that breathe it in involuntarily. The General Assembly has passed legislation that gives Illinois counties authority to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places.
This builds upon on legislation passed last year, now state law, that gives every municipality the ability to restrict smoking within its community.
Businesses have complained this law is going to cost them patrons who smoke. They can simply go to a nearby bar or restaurant doing business outside the limits of a city banning smoking.
But now there is the new legislation granting the power to ban smoking on a countywide basis.
Yet, this measure also has its imperfections. It would only cover unincorporated areas. Municipalities retain their power to decide, individually, whether to ban smoking.
To put this into perspective, out of nearly 3,000 bars and restaurants in DuPage County, only 31 are located in the unincorporated areas within the countyís jurisdiction.
So in effect, only a handful of bars or restaurants would be forbidden from allowing their patrons to smoke if the county board decided to enact the newfound smoke ban authority gained under the legislation that is now before the governor.
Not only would this fall short of any semblance of a comprehensive ban in the best interest of public health, but it would certainly generate new cries of economic injustice from establishments in unincorporated areas.
†The best way to depart from a piecemeal approach to protecting the non-smoking public is to enact a firm, statewide ban. That would put all communities, and businesses, on the same footing. It is the best solution.
Absent that, we again offer a strategy that we have on occasion recommended in this space.† That is, take a regional approach.
Municipalities and counties could work collectively toward enacting a smoking ban measure for the collar county region. This way, the debate of smokersí rights versus non-smokersí rights, feared economic disadvantages and how to minimize them, and protecting public health could be intensely debated at the local level. Hopefully an equitable yet effective smoking ban would result from such discussions.
Better to hope for something productive from a regional approach than to keep going the patchwork way.

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